Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Monday, March 4, 2013

A Part of the Story

All great journalists live by simple rules.  One such rule is never become a part of the story and never become the story.  It is for this reason that my opinion of Bob Woodward has dropped a bit. Woodward has become a part of the story.

Woodward, who works at the Washington Post, was one of the two famous reporters that broke the story of Watergate.  The other reporter was Carl Bernstein.  Their book, following the fall of the Nixon administration, called All the President's Men became one of the landmarks of solid investigative journalism. Woodward has built a reputation as pretty much a straight shooter.  Of late, though he seems to be seeking more press about Woodward than about the stories he reports.

His most recent book The Price of Politics was a discussion of the struggle between the Obama administration and the Congress in 2011.  It was called by the NY Times as depressing and tedious and overly detailed.  I have not read the book.  Woodward has written a number of books dealing with insider politics and often basis this information on unnamed sources.  No, I don't think he makes up these sources.  They are a necessary evil in dealing with information often kept from the public by every political group. Woodward also made the rounds on a few shows to discuss the book.  Hawking a book on TV is not new.  Authors do it all the time.

Recently though, Woodward wrote an op ed piece which also promoted his book, announcing that President Obama had approved the idea of the "sequester" which was floated by Jack Lew and that the now insistence that closing tax loopholes, Woodward asserts, is moving the goal posts.  Woodward's piece is not hard journalism but an opinion editorial.  This means it is interpretation of what Woodward sees during the whole finger pointing of who did what.  But the story doesn't stop there.

Woodward is no stranger to controversy, and there is little doubt that he has received more than a few letters, emails, and other missives pushing back against his reporting over the years.  It comes with the territory.  Woodward, by his op ed, has inserted himself into the argument by announcing that Obama has moved the goal posts and then later suggesting that Obama could ignore the methodology of cutting for military expenses in the sequestration law.   In other words according to Woodward, Obama should break the law.  In an email Woodward received,  says he would "regret" this.  At least, that is how Woodward framed it in an interview.  It sounds as if he is being threatened by Gene Sperling, the author of the email.  Woodward, who had already injected himself into the issue, went on the air announcing the ominous threat.  He became the story.

The problem is that the email was not a threat.  Sperling wrote in the email exchange with Woodward, "You may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim." Hardly being "roughed up" as Woodward seems to think.  The problem is not the op ed.  The problem is not that Woodward uses "unnamed sources." The problem is not that an email was sent to Woodward.

The problem is that Woodward actively sought out the spotlight.  He has discussed this "roughing up" and threatening email on Politico, Fox, MSNBC and other cable outlets.  Yes the administration pushed back.  All administrations do.  Sperling admitted that he had a heated exchange with Woodward in a phone call and apologized for it, later stating on CNN that Woodward "is a legend."  As a reporter, Woodward should have simply let his opinion piece stand.

But instead, he chose the spotlight.  He became the story.